GHO Homes President Bill Handler wants everyone to know that he has sold only a controlling share of his company to Texas-based Green Brick Partners.
He hasn’t sold his soul.
GHO Homes is still his brand, backed by his reputation, and he says he will continue to run the business with the same standards and management team that made the company the nation’s fastest-growing mid-size homebuilder in 2017.
“It’s still a local operation, and that’s exactly what both of us wanted,” Handler said. “Green Brick is a publicly traded company, but they wanted a local partner – someone who knew the market and the people, someone with a strong brand, a track record of success and a reputation for honesty.
“We didn’t have to do this deal, but it was the perfect opportunity,” he added. “With Green Brick’s strong financial resources, combined with GHO’s deep connections in this market, we’ve become a bigger player when it comes to buying and developing land.
“We’re now well-positioned to continue our growth, and we have the capital we’ll need to pursue future opportunities.”
Green Brick recently purchased all of GHO’s assets and acquired 80 percent of Handler’s company through an investment in a newly formed entity, GRBK GHO Homes LLC.
Handler owns 20 percent of the new company and retained his title as president. He said decisions regarding GHO’s projects here will continue to be made locally.
Asked if it was difficult to part with the controlling share of the company his father, Dan, founded in 1983 – and the business he ran for the past 18 years – Handler said sentiment wasn’t a factor.
“When you have bank loans, you’re not in total control, anyway,” Handler said. “The people I’m working with at Green Brick are awesome. We have the same vision, the same values.
“If there are problems, we solve them together,” he added. “If there are opportunities, we’ll chase them together.”
The deal with Green Brick marks the second time in 12 years that Handler has sold his company.
In a perfectly timed move, he sold GHO to national builder Woodside Homes in 2006, just before the housing market collapsed across the country. By 2008, an overextended Woodside was bankrupt, and in 2010, Handler bought his company and its assets back for a fraction of the 2006 sale price.
As the country recovered from the Great Recession and the housing market rebounded, Handler nurtured GHO’s resurgence, which saw the company’s home sales soar from 26 in 2012 to more than 240 in 2017, when revenues grew to more than $85 million.
“The market here is healthy,” said Handler, whose company is currently selling homes in 16 subdivisions, 15 of which are in Indian River County, where GHO is now preparing to start another new, 71-home community, called Arabella Reserve, at the intersection of 49th Street and 58th Avenue.
Operating from a position of strength – but competing locally against national builders such as D.R. Horton, Lennar and area newcomer Ryan Homes – Handler began to explore a possible partnership that would strengthen GHO’s financial position with an infusion of capital for future projects.
He sought the assistance of Michael P. Kahn & Associates, a nationally known financial advisory firm that specializes in housing industry mergers and acquisitions, and a meeting with Green Brick was arranged.
Green Brick, which began as a biofuel company that operated ethanol production facilities in the Midwest, moved into real estate and home building in 2014.
Over the past four years, Green Brick has grown into a multi-regional home builder with a strong presence in the high-growth Dallas and Atlanta markets, where it owns or controls more than 6,000 home sites. The company also has a minority share in Challenger Homes in Colorado Springs.
The acquisition of GHO added another 900 lots to Green Brick’s portfolio.
According to Green Brick’s website: “The company is engaged in all aspects of the home-building process, including land acquisition and development, entitlements, design, construction, marketing and sales for its residential neighborhoods and master-planned communities.”
The GHO deal is Green Brick’s first real-estate venture in Florida.
“With this strategic acquisition, Green Brick has expanded into the Florida markets with one of the best brands on Florida’s east coast,” Green Brick CEO Jim Brickman said in a statement announcing the deal. “GHO and Bill Handler have a customer-first culture, an exceptional management team, and a great lot position.”
In 2017, Builder Magazine included GHO on its list of the nation’s “Top 200 Builders” and named the company the “fastest growing builder” among those ranked No. 101 to 200 in homes sold.
GHO earned similar recognition in 2014.
“You’re always looking at what’s next,” Handler said. “Then you’ve got to be able to compete – to be able to fund the deals that make sense – but deals are getting more expensive.
“This partnership allows us to continue to be competitive.”
Handler said his focus remains on Indian River County, though the additional capital will allow him to expand north into Brevard and south into St. Lucie County, where GHO is already active in the Meadowood golf community in Fort Pierce.
“Years ago, we built in Brevard and St. Lucie, and even in Daytona, and I might look at it,” he said. “But this county is, by far, where I am the most comfortable.”
As for the possibility that selling controlling interest in GHO to Green Brick was a sign that he’s ready to get out of the home-building business, Handler said, “No, sir. We’re busy. Sales are up. The market is strong.
“Besides,” he added, “this is what I do.”